Posts tagged evaluation
What’s the evaluation process all about? It depends on who’s asking.
With teachers, we focus on growth, and that’s generally as it should be.
With the public, we mention the growth goal, but we also make it clear that the evaluation process lets us deal with underperformance.
But in speaking to each of these audiences, we can confuse ourselves and start to believe two pervasive lies about teacher evaluation and growth.
The first lie: “If we focus enough on improvement, we’ll never need to fire anyone.”
The second lie: “Rigorously evaluating our teachers will help them grow.”
Both are false. Neither is a reason to abandon the two goals of the evaluation process:
- Growth: To help teachers improve their practice
- Quality Control: To ensure high-quality teaching and learning in every classroom
If these are both good goals, what’s the problem? Simple: the two goals are totally unrelated, except in their ultimate purpose. In fact, they’re even a bit incompatible.
All professionals need to grow, and having a framework like Charlotte Danielson’s to aid your reflection and help you map out your growth process is enormously helpful. But what’s not helpful is to have someone else give you a rating and tell you where you need to grow.
Let me be really clear on this point: Giving someone a rating can identify where they need to grow—and this is a crucial starting point for growth—but it does nothing to actually help them grow.
If I’m sick, I want my doctor to tell me what’s wrong, but the diagnosis itself isn’t going to make me well.
I think we’re muddled on this issue because we fail to realize that performance has two components: Skill and behavior. If you’re talented but not really putting in much effort, you’re not going to achieve great things. On the other hand, working your tail off at something you’re bad at isn’t going to yield fabulous results either.
As administrators, our most direct influence over teaching quality in the evaluation process is on behavior: If someone is not doing what they need to be doing, we can tell them to make a change, and hold them accountable for doing so. If you’re not planning and preparing for your lessons adequately, your administrator can demand that you start turning in lesson plans. Because the focus is behavior, the change can happen immediately.
Assuming we’re picking the right behaviors, this absolutely can lead to improvement. Supervision can change behavior. But to improve skill, you need coaching. And coaching is not the same as supervision.
One of the best movements to improve coaching in the principalship is the #educoach work being done by Shira Leibowitz, Jessica Johnson, and Kathy Perret, who tell me Jim Knight’s work is worth its weight in gold. Their premise is straightforward: instructional leaders need to get good at coaching in order to help staff improve their skills.
But now it gets sticky: If we want to evaluate people rigorously so they know what they’re good at and what they aren’t, and we want to coach them to help them get better, we have to decide which hat we’re wearing at any given time.
I have to realize that when I’m wearing my evaluator hat, I’m giving up the right to serve as a coach in that moment. And when I coach, I have to set aside my evaluator mindset and work to help my “client” meet his or her own goals through the coaching process.
Hopefully there’s some alignment between what people are working to grow in, and what we see as their needs and opportunities based on the evaluation process, but beyond that, we shouldn’t muddle evaluation and coaching. They are different, and need to be handled in distinct ways.
We mustn’t believe the lies that tell us that any vague efforts at “improvement” will help people grow and ensure high-quality teaching in every classroom.
We can’t coach our way out of our responsibility to conduct rigorous evaluations, and we can’t evaluate our way to better teaching. As instructional leaders, we have to wear both hats, whether we like it or not. Just not at the same time.
Oh, and one more thing: most of us believe these lies, or act like we do. Principals who both use the evaluation process to deal with serious underperformance, and effectively coach teachers to help them grow, are few and far between indeed. More on this soon.
When I lead workshops on teacher evaluation, people always say “I want the process to help my teachers grow.”
It’s understandable: As growth-oriented educators, we want to help our teachers improve their skills.
But as I learn more and more about what leads to growth, I keep coming back to one thing that surely doesn’t: supervision.
Now, supervision is essential—make no mistake. The principalship exists in part to make sure that all of our teachers are up to a certain standard of quality (hopefully a high one, though the national statistics make me wonder how high our standards are when 97% or more of our ratings are “good enough” or higher).
But does supervision help teachers improve?
Let’s step back from the question of principals supervising teachers for a minute. Does supervising, inspecting, evaluating, or otherwise observing and judging lead to improvement anywhere?
You might say yes, but if we narrow down where the improvement happens, it’s usually after the supervision has taken place, perhaps due to follow-up action like coaching or accessing a helpful resource.
I’d argue that supervision itself never causes growth. Why? Because supervision alone cannot improve people’s skills. To improve skill, you need deliberate practice with feedback. You need coaching.
What supervision can do is influence behavior. And it’s very good at this. When your staff knows what you want to see, they will do more of it, and they’ll do less of what you don’t want—if they believe you’ll notice and care.
When someone knows he’ll get fired if he doesn’t start showing up on time, he’ll start showing up on time.
When someone has decided not to follow the district pacing guide, supervision can change that behavior fast.
When someone is making snide remarks in staff meetings and bringing down the professional tone, you can set the expectation, monitor, and ultimately change the behavior.
So even though I don’t think supervision can lead to growth, I do think it can lead to improvement, because performance is a result not just of your skill, but of what you actually do.
In other words, even if you can’t use the supervision process to help every teacher grow, you can use it to lead to improved teaching and learning by promoting the right behaviors. Behaviors like being prepared every day, treating students respectfully, following through, sharing assessment results, and other actions that lead to better learning.
A lot of the behaviors we can supervise into improvement are negative behaviors—stop showing up late, stop yelling at kids, stop under-preparing, and so on—but a lot are positive, too. Before we can help people improve their skill, we need to make sure they’re doing the thing that we want them to get better at.
After all, improving an aspect of your practice can’t happen unless that aspect of practice is in your practice.
When my school began implementing a new writing curriculum, my focus was on coaching. But I quickly realized that people couldn’t be coached on something they weren’t doing. You can’t improve the clarity of your lesson’s teaching point if your lessons never have teaching points.
Before I could coach, I needed to supervise. I needed to set the expectation and follow through. Then—and only then—could I coach.
What behaviors do you want to see more (or less) of to improve student learning in your school?
In this episode of Eduleadership Radio, Jason DeRoner, CEO of TeachBoost, joins me to discuss the impact good software can have on school leaders’ ability to provide high-quality feedback.
Let me be blunt: Most apps made specifically for principals are junk, because the developers either aren’t very good, or they don’t understand the work of principals, or both. When I tried TeachBoost, I realized something was different, and I knew I had to talk to the person behind it.
I had a great time talking with Jason because he deeply understands instructional supervision, and TeachBoost has developed an amazing web-based app that works on a laptop, iPad, smartphone, or just about any other web-enabled device to help principals collect great information in walkthroughs or formal observations.
TeachBoost isn’t cheap, but they do have a free plan that’s worth checking out. You can create a free account here.
In our discussion, Jason and I talk about what school leaders need from their software in order for it to make a positive difference in their work without getting in the way. Whether or not you’re interested in a particular tool, I hope you find this discussion helpful to your thinking about instructional supervision and the way you provide feedback to teachers to support their growth.
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